A champagne toast welcomed the return of the last First Folio to the Folger, completing a national tour in which 18 of the Folger’s 82 First Folios traveled to all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and Washington, DC, in 2016. This traveling exhibition, First Folio! The Book That Gave Us Shakespeare, was a centerpiece of The Wonder of Will, the Folger’s commemoration of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.
The final First Folio to come home, from its two-month stay at The Parthenon in Nashville, TN, goes by the nickname “The Complete Set Copy,” since it was acquired by the Folger in 1906 as part of a set that included the Second, Third, and Fourth Folios.
This First Folio has now taken its place alongside its 17 siblings, plus one “understudy” copy, in an exhibition called First Folio! Shakespeare’s American Tour, the largest ever assembly of First Folios in one venue. (The First Folio that is on permanent display to the public at the Folger brings the total to 20.) The First Folios tell the story of the half million people they met along the tour, the unique attributes of each book, and the overwhelming relevance of the plays they include.
For the exhibition, “The Complete Set Copy” is open to Cymbeline, one of 18 plays in the First Folio that appeared there for the first time in print. Without this book that gave us Shakespeare, published in 1623, those 18 plays could have been lost.
Years of preparation went into organizing the 52-stop tour, creating the exhibition that accompanied each book, and keeping the First Folios safe from harm in their travels around the United States. Special programming at each host site engaged the general public, as well as teachers and families, in what for many was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see a First Folio. This video gives a brief overview.
On Shakespeare & Beyond, we followed the First Folio tour as it traveled to different corners of the country. See highlights that we curated throughout the year:
- Maryland, Wisconsin, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and Tennessee
- Alabama, Minnesota, New Jersey, Utah, Virginia, and Washington, DC
- Ohio, North Dakota, Alaska, and Colorado
- Idaho, Iowa, Delaware, Nevada, and Connecticut
- Missouri, Arkansas, New York, and California
- Louisiana, Massachusetts, Montana, Hawaii, West Virginia, and North Carolina
- Maine, Michigan, Puerto Rico, South Dakota, and Texas
- Florida, Vermont, Kansas, Illinois, New Mexico, and Arizona
- Indiana, Oklahoma, and Oregon
Which First Folio went to your state? Find the complete list here.